Old News: Past Blog Posts

Monday, September 16, 2013

Confessions of a Nursing Mom

NOTE TO READERS: This post was written just about a year ago when I was elbow-deep in nursing and working mommy-hood. Ready or Not Dad was just returning to the black hole that is marching band season, clocking 70 and 80 hour weeks and things were feeling pretty nutso.  See if you can identify my psychotic determination and thinly veiled disdain for lactaction consultants. 


My mother has always been the picture of over-educated, over-achievement.  She earned her PhD smack-dab in the middle of raising three kids, in the midst of a full time job; composing her dissertation in the only quiet she could find: the very wee-est hours of the morning. She never met a book or peer-reviewed article she didn't devour.  She's ended up in charge of everything from the PTO to the Girl Scouts to the university department where she presently works.  

And she formula-fed her children? 

She actually refers to herself as a breastfeeding 'dropout'.  As far as I can surmise, that may in fact be the only time she ever dropped out from anything...ever.

Turns out in the eighties, almost no American women were breastfeeding.  Mothers had turned to formula the minute evaporated milk made it convenient and it was deemed healthy.  By the 1950s, half of America's babies were formula-fed, and that number increased by half in 20 years, with a whopping 75% of little ones sucking it back by the seventies.  

Maybe, that's partially how we ladies managed to finally put our babies down and bust into the workplace?  (So we can happily earn 77 cents to every man's dollar?)  Perhaps the women's liberation movement owes a big-fat thank you note to the formula-manufacturers?   

Today any mother will tell you, the baby-diet winds have shifted.  

I can count on one hand the number of mom friends I have who exclusively formula-fed from the start.    

On one hand...with one finger.  
(and let me just clarify: she's one of my favorite mom-friends, with two healthy, intelligent, beautiful babies) 

Now, us American women are not only expected to race back to work six weeks after childbirth (or one week later in some extreme cases... *sigh*) -- we better do it with a breast pump in tow.  And some of us are still expected 90% productivity.  Thankfully, a skilled pumper can type on a laptop and express simultaneously.  

'Breast is best.' The mantra pulses it's way through me as if carried by my circulatory system itself -- reaching all ends of my body.  It haunts me with every 'woosh-a-woosh' of my breast pump and soapy breast shield I scrub.  It follows me out of my cozy bed at 12am, 2am, 4am, as I stumble through the dark to quiet the hungry cries of my son or, if (Praise Jesus) he's actually sleeping though the night, to desperately capitalize on my early morning supply by pumping an extra bottle or so.  

Ask my husband, I have become a crazy person on a mission.  My determination to offer my kid a breastmilk-only diet boarders on clinical obsession and frequently takes all the fun out of being a working mom.  What is wrong with me?

As a NICU mom, I was dutifully  pumping around the clock.  My first night home from the hospital, I learned that St Mary's security will indeed admit you without proper ID at 4am if you appear desperate and totally disheveled, waving a bottle of breast milk like a lunatic.  

I quickly discovered that I needed to pump for a half hour at a time for my lazy-ass boobs to produce anything of substance.  For all you math majors out there : 30 minutes times eight pumps a day is four hours daily.  Add in working 4-6 hours a day at my 'real job' and three hospital visits...operating on less than 3 hours of sleep at a time....Lets just say for five weeks, I ran myself totally ragged, fueled by adrenaline and determination alone.  

If good friends haven't supplied my husband an me with almost daily meals, we may have both ended up either admitted to the hospital ourselves or committed to the looney bin.

And that was before the precious little nugget came home to us.

Maternity leave was a blur.  I think I spent the bulk of it nursing.  Actually, I know I did.  Like any other overly-ambitious new mom, I meticulously logged my feeding times (motherhood? There's totally an app for that!) and because of that, I can tell you I spent an average of 31.5 hours a week breast feeding.  True story: one day, the kid was latched for over nine hours.  In many job situations, hours like this will very nearly earn you benefits.  

I suppose it was successful. In less than four months, our little man tripled in size; from 3lbs 10oz on March 18 to a respectable 10lbs 3oz by the 4th of July.  

After my first few official days back to work, a small amount of remedial math told me that I had created a monster; there was no chance I could keep up with him.  I would proudly arrive home with eight ounces of expressed milk only to find he'd sucked back 15 since I'd left.   

Feeling like a failure and bordering on tears, I called a lactation consultant.  Her only advice was that I simply work harder: pump more often, nurse longer, and quit my bitching.  (ok, I made that last part up).

Now, my weekdays go a little like this: 

1. Wake up (usually between 5-6am); nurse for 60-90 minutes.
2. Scramble around the house preparing my pump, milk for the sitter and easily-consumed lunch items (so I can pump, eat, and document my treatments all at once), feed the dogs, make the bed, change the kid, and race out the door.
3. Pump on the way to work (there may be some legal gray-area there, but I happen to know I'm not the only mom pumping on the road)
4. Work-pump-work-pump-work
5. Pump on the way home from work.
6. Arrive home.
7. Another marathon nursing session (generally totaling up to 2 hours in the period before bed)
8.  Work out (this happens on average 2/5 weeknights and usually means another bottle for the rugrat and more guilt for mama) 
9.  Clean up kitchen (because my husband is a rockstar and almost always does the cooking) 
10. Bed 
11. Sweet, precious sleep...interrupted at least twice for midnight hour-long snacks, pumping or both.


As we near our sixth month as parents, the frozen milk stockpile--built up when the little dude was in the NICU--is running lower and lower.  He happily guzzles up to 8 ounces at once and it won't be long before I'm forced to throw in the towel and shop for formula.  

Until that time: at least my boobs look great.

FYI:  We did decide to supplement with formula after little dude's six month pediatric appointment (partially because our pediatrician took one look at me and knew I needed to chill the 'F' out).  As I purchased the formula, I felt simultaneously defeated and liberated. Still, I continued to nurse and pump until he was nine months old (when I discovered I was pregnant) and our freezer storage kept him guzzling one or two bottles of breastmilk per day until his first birthday.  

Sure, victory.

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